Monday, December 14, 2015

Waffle House

1304 Veterans Blvd.
Festus, Mo.

On the Web

Sure, I've reviewed Waffle House before. In my mind, a good place deserves mention and a great place deserves frequent mention.
I'll keep it short.

The Place:
West of I-55 just off Highway A. Just look for the big yellow sign.
Diner style, booths along the wall, stools at the counter. Clean, bright and seemingly always staffed by cheerful and hard working people. In this case, the crew consisted of three young folks, Kelsey, CJ and Josh.
Josh was the grill master, the ladies deftly worked the tables and counter. They all wore matching gray shirts, black pants, black apron and black caps. Our primary server was Kelsey, whose pony tail was pulled through the adjusting gap in her cap.
I cannot recall coming across a bad crew at a Waffle House. Always friendly, always busy, occasionally breaking out in song, though not too loudly. Always welcoming and sincere, always helpful. This trio was no exception.
The Food:
Me: Hash browns, smothered and covered (onions and cheese). Add some bacon, two eggs, over medium, a biscuit, and of course, coffee please.
Angel: Hash browns, smothered, covered, chunked and country. (ham, gravy) add sausage, scrambled eggs, skip the toast, with ice tea.
Adam: All American Breakfast, eggs, bacon, scrambled eggs, toast and hash browns (plain) instead of grits, with soda pop.
Yeah, we all got pretty much the same thing. But that's why we like it there, this is what we want when we go to WH, and  WH is our preferred place when we want breakfast for dinner.
The food didn't take very long, but why should it? It's a pretty simple menu. Not a lot of fancy seasonings and sauces to fuss over.
At one point, KC came out from behind the counter and poked the jukebox. This concerned me at first, I'm not much of a listener to music, especially the kind of music most people poke in a jukebox. But she impressed me with Otis Redding's 'Sittin' on the dock of the bay.' We're good.
She seemed surprised when I complimented her on her selections.
As I said, the food came in good time. I looked over at Angel's blasphemic hash brown concoction. Not that I could actually see any hash browns, they were completely covered by an epic mudslide portion of brown gravy. Angel was quite pleased though. Angel likes gravy, I might have mentioned that before. (That night, she posted on FB:"Went out for gravy tonight. Yeah there was other stuff on the plate too, but who cares when there's GRAVY on the plate.")
The real problem, for me, was the ham. I understand the gravy, but the ham corrupts the subtle purity of hash browns. It's like adding a bunch of exclamation points to a paragraph were they simply don't belong.
The last thing to arrive was Adam's waffle. They make a pretty good waffle here. Don't just take my word for it though:
"Whoa, that's good, that's good! . . . this is better than The French Laundry!" -Anthony Bourdain-
I suppose I should explain a few things about that.
I'll assume you know who Anthony Bourdain is. He's all over TV, all over the world. He's been everywhere, tried everything and isn't afraid to call a dud, a dud, he even does so quite profanely. He's worked in some of the finest restaurants in the country, top tier. Among Restaurant Magazine's Top 50 Restaurants in the World, frequently listed is The French Laundry, located in the Napa Valley in California. Bourdain himself once called that high end eatery: "The best restaurant in the world."
That was before he'd ever been to a Waffle House.
The food, every bit of it, was great. Perfectly prepared, cleanly and promptly served.That almost goes without saying. The service was simply outstanding. Every member of that young three person crew checked on us during our visit. They all cheerfully greeted us when we arrived and all three wished us a good evening when we left. My coffee cup never saw the halfway point.
The bill for all that comfy yummy-ness was a modest thirty two dollars. I tipped large.
This is how diners and restaurants should work. Limited menus, simple, fresh ingredients, a crew that truly works as a team. Casual, friendly, relaxed. Dining as it should be.

Waffle House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, November 23, 2015

Main & Mill Brewing Company

240 E. Main
Festus, Mo.
On the Web
Social Media

We've been waiting, for over a year.
This place sounded ambitious. Take an old main street storefront and convert it to a brewery/brew house. . . in Festus.
The Place:
They stripped the interior of building and built it up again. Early on there was a significant delay when someone thought they were at a drive-thru and crashed into
Photo courtesy of
the side of the building, knocking down a few yards of brick. This prompted the owners to go to the city fathers (and mothers) to install large, concrete planters between the building and the street. This has caused some 'discussion' around town, but in my opinion it doesn't appear to be all that inconvenient, excessive or tacky.
They finally opened up a few weeks ago, we thought we'd wait a little bit to work out the kinks.
The job they did was simply amazing. On the inside, mostly brick and heavy wood. The highly lacquered bar and wood tables were made from some of the 100 year old building's original lumber.
The exposed rafters were very much the work of buildings of that time, oversize by today's flimsier standards. The trim was mostly black, window frames, chairs, etc. The brewing equipment was bright stainless steel sitting in the center of the first floor. We went in and escorted upstairs to a large area with a bar and several rows of high bistro tables and chairs. The place was abuzz, about half full at five in the afternoon. The stairs appeared to be original, heavy, old and steep.
We were seated against the wall behind a long, high table and nice chairs. You end up sitting next to strangers along the table, but just because you sit by them doesn't mean you have to socialize with them. . .or even acknowledge they exist. I was fine with that.
A young lady stopped by and handed out menus and asked about drinks. I broke from the traditional, after all it is a brewery, and ordered a 'Session IPA'. It seemed to fit the taste niche I had set my mind on. I don't drink much beer, but when I do, I want it to have a bold flavor. By bold, I mean something with  more actual taste than popular domestic beers. I really, really don't like weak beer.
I once worked at a very large beer company in St. Louis. . . you know the one. . .  so I know a thing or two about. . . business software.  Seriously, in those three years I learned little more than I already knew, which wasn't much,  about beer. I handled the accounting and financial data, not the recipes. I have tried several beers though, I know what I like and don't like. Angel and Adam settled for soda pop. Losers.
The Food:
I'd looked online ahead of time. . . I knew what I wanted. There's not a huge pile of food offerings, but they span a wide enough variety. Sandwiches, burgers, salads, steaks, salmon, etc.
The appetizers looked appealing. . . different. . . oh, no fried ravioli, how odd. But they did have another temptation, Beer Cheese Pretzels.  That's what we ordered. We also called in our entrees, Angel and I asked for the fish and chips, Adam, a House Pub Burger. Fries for Adam and me, Angel wanted the house made chips. No salads please.
I sipped my first beer in a year or so and was greatly pleased. I'd had a few other IPA's (India Pale Ale) in my lifetime, this was a very good one. Hoppy, tasty, not at all dull or bitter. If I had to drink beer more often, this is probably what I'd ask for. As far as the 'brewery' bit goes, it was a home run for the first brewery to open in Jefferson county in 120 years.
Then came the pretzels, long thick sticks alongside a beer cheese bisque dipping sauce. I love a good
soft pretzel and these were certainly good. As good as they were though, the real star of this appetizer plate was the beer cheese bisque. Angel agreed, this was not your standard nacho cheese machine sauce. It had a depth of tastes I can barely describe. Cheese, beer, and something else, I cannot figure out exactly what, veggies, I think, maybe celery and a dot of onion, but I'm pretty sure there was even more to it than that. At the end of the meal, the only thing we boxed up was the remaining half pretzel and the last of the bisque.
We could have stopped right there. It was that good. Pretty soon though, the entrees arrived.
I've been looking for a decent plate of fish and chips. It has been mostly a futile task. The 'chips' are easy, a basic French fry does nicely. It's the fish
that everyone fusses with and fails. Fish and chips are a take away food, like a sandwich or a deep fried Twinkie. They were invented for people on the go. In other words, eaten by hand. That means the fish has to be breaded and crispy. This is apparently, incredibly difficult to do right. Fish, unlike chicken fried steak and Twinkies, is high in moisture. Fish is also crumbly. To make it street-ready, the breading has to hold up to and hold together through all that internal steam.
Main and Mill's fish was absolutely delicious. They served the two large fillets with the obligatory tartar sauce as well as a bottle of malt vinegar. I like both.
At first bite, the breading started slipping off the rest of the fish. As large and as heavy as the cut was, it could not support its own weight. Only a couple of crunchy corners stayed intact. This rendered the notion of dipping the fish into the tartar virtually moot. I tried, part of the fish stayed in the ramekin. This was sad since the taste and texture of the fish itself
was extremely good. I tried cutting it, tearing it, nothing worked, there were fish flakes everywhere, I had to re-wrap the flaccid breading onto the chunks to get a taste of both.
I try to be constructive, so I'd recommend this: Use a slightly thicker batter and definitely use smaller cuts of fish. The average fish and chip aficionado wants to break off a piece, dunk it in tartar without the rest of it falling apart.  It simply must support its own weight.
This is not to say we didn't enjoy the meal, far from it! Adam wolfed down his "good" burger in near record time, no problem there. Angel and I loved the taste and done-ness of the fish, but we were both just a little put off by the sheer clumsiness of it.
Except for the fish batter issues, everything was absolutely great. The IPA and the pretzel were to die for. The decor, the ambiance, were awesome. The wait staff, in our case a capable and friendly young lady name Lexie (Short for Alexandra, or Alexandria, we learned) was exceptional. Why she wants to shorten her solid and proper name like that I'm not sure. I simply won't allow people to call me anything other than my full first name, even though I don't particularly like my full first name. It's almost criminal to chop up a classic name like Alexandria, or Alexandra, whichever it is. However, she did a first rate job waiting on us, chatting when we wanted to chat, she even capably answered a few questions about the bisque and other things, including what her name was derived from.  She definitely deserves a substantial raise.
We will go again, maybe not for the fish and chips, we'll probably try something else. They seem to really care about quality, it shows in their beer especially.  They've done an outstanding job of fixing the place up , no cutting corners, well, short of having an SUV plow into the place. It is classy, tidy and very well thought out.
The bill came in less than I expected, an appetizer, a fine IPA and three entrees for fifty two bucks and change. That's less than we pay at Ruby Tuesday's or other sports casual places.
Definitely going back, definitely recommended!


As noted above, the photo of the SUV inside the building was taken by Denny, one of the owners. I've been following this place on FB since I first heard about it. They updated the progress frequently, including after the accident.  I asked him via FB Messenger if I could use this photo in a future blog post. . . well Denny, here you go. 
Hold it. . . 'Denny'. . . isn't that a shortened version of 'Dennis'?  Grrr....

Main & Mill Brewing Company Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, November 9, 2015


9992 Linn Ferry Drive
St. Louis, Mo.
On the Web
On Facebook

My friend and co-worker Doug suggested this place. Twice. Once a few months ago, then after I forgot about it, he reminded me again. I scanned the online menu and sent Angel a message with the link and one word: "Lamb!"
Her response: "Have you made the reservations yet?"
We watch a lot of food porn on TV and there are certain things that we've decided we'd like to try, but we had to be reasonably sure that the place we tried it was good. We'd hate to try something and not have it again just because it was poorly prepared.
Angel and I both grew up in areas that were decidedly midwestern and non-ethnic in cuisine. So even things that are fairly common in other places, we've just never had an opportunity to try. Like lamb.
I can't say I've never had lamb, but I don't recall ever having it.
The Place:
Not too far from the Concord Grill, just off Tesson Ferry and Lindbergh in South County. Angel recognized it, having passed it many times on the way to clients' homes to pick up or drop off dogs. "I always thought it was a sandwich place." She said. It did look like that, the signage boasted of gyros, sandwiches. and burgers.
Inside though, instead of a deli, it looked more fine dining. White tablecloths (covered with glass) thick red cloth napkins, classic Greek art on the walls, dark wood floors. There was a bar, separated from the dining area by a tasteful glass block wall. Breaking up the ambiance were three large TV's, one above the bar, two in the dining area. All were muted and tuned to college football, three different games as best I could tell by the bright colors of the players' costumes. This is the sort of thing you see in a sports bar. Not even Ruby Tuesday puts TV's in the dining area. They were muted though, so I just ignored them. Overhead, Greek music, all familiar, some would say stereotypical, played from the sound system.
We were told to sit wherever we liked. We picked a table in the back. The dining area was not massive, but it was very well laid out. a couple of dozen four-top booths and tables fit efficiently into the space.  Immediately upon sitting we were waited on by a young lady with definite Greek features, who later told me her name was. . . something. . . I couldn't quite make it out, but it sounded nice. She even told us how it was pronounced "in my country".  She was very nice and attentive, asking about drinks.
Tea, tea, Pepsi.
While we were waiting, a neighboring table was served a plate I couldn't quite make out. the server set it afire and shouted "Opa!", as is apparently the tradition for that particular dish. I later learned that it was called Saganaki, a flaming Greek cheese. WARNING: Greek cheese is apparently flammable!
The Food:
When one of our drinks was delivered (they were having to brew a fresh batch of tea) The menus looked similar to the online version. It listed pasta, pizza, fish, chicken and there it was, lamb.  Two options, shank and chops. The shank was covered in a marinara sauce, which to me sounded a bit over the top. I wanted to discover lamb, I didn't want to swim through spaghetti sauce to find it. It appealed to Angel though. She chose it with the soup and a baked potato. I happily chose the chops, about the most expensive thing on the menu.  I asked our server about 'Greek Potatoes' She explained they were sauteed with onions, peppers and olives. That sounded good, so I went for that, when in Greece. . . goes the old saying. Or was that Rome? I always get those two confused, what with ancient empires and all those crude, cruel and crazed deities. Instead of the soup, I took the house salad. Adam, staying true to form went with the Greek Chicken and the soup.
The young lady asked if we had questions. I did, several, but Angel jumped in and asked for the ravioli appetizer. The toasted ravioli (because, St. Louis) was pretty good, fluffy, yet crispy. They would have been a little better if we'd had something to wash them down with.
Our tea finally arrived, a young man, also decidedly Greek in features, brought the tea. It was rather weak, but it was fresh.
The soups and salads came soon. The soup they'd chosen was a lemon chicken. Small bowls, it looked rich and creamy. The salad was about what I expected, maybe a little less. Mediterranean style salads are usually similar, lettuce, onions, shredded  white cheese, olives, maybe a little chunk of artichoke and maybe a cherry tomato or two. This version contained only the lettuce, onion and cheese. At least the dressing was correct, olive-y. In all a pretty good salad.
Adam and Angel seemed to enjoy the soup. Afterword they agreed that it may have been a little too-lemony.
I made sure to not finish the salad. Often during the week, my entire dinner is a salad. . .well, maybe one with a few more things in it, but I can fill up on a salad.
The salad plate was never taken away, a minor annoyance, but soon the entree's arrived. I had expected three chops and the potatoes, there was quite a bit more on the plate though. The thick, grilled chops, each  about the same diameter as a baseball, were sitting on a pillow of fluffed rice and surrounded by steamed veggies, cauliflower, broccoli (blech), squash, carrots, etc. I would have been happy with the chops and the potatoes, all that other stuff was going to go untouched.
Angel's shank was indeed hidden in a thick layer of marinara. Also surrounded by the veggies.
So, for the first time in my life, that I recall, I carved into some lamb. About an inch thick, with that grilled texture that makes any meat better. It was more similar to beef then pork, but not quite the same. It was not gamy at all. It tasted exactly like a properly cooked piece of meat. I struggled a little finding all the meat on the bone, not being familiar wit a lamb chop cut. In the end it was easier to navigate by picking it up like a chicken leg and gnawing around the curves and corners. I liked it, a lot. Truly a good piece of meat.
The potatoes, what few there actually were, had absorbed those other things it had been sauteed with, a hint of olive and an almost overwhelming amount of onion. . . it mostly tasted of onion.
I like onions, I love onions, I pretty much put onions in everything I cook. But this was a little overpowering. the texture of the potatoes was spot on, they just need to dial back the onions a bit.
Angel seemed to enjoy her shank. There was a lot of red sauce, but that didn't seem to deter her. "Really interesting." Is what she said about it, though conceding she'd probably go for chops or even kabobs the next time. Adam said little about his chicken. "Good." was his total stated assessment. His dinner was served with the same rice bed and steamed veggies.
Since this was more about trying lamb than the restaurant itself, I'd have to say I loved my chops. they were obviously prepared well. So for that, they score 100%.
As for the rest of the experience, well, there's room for improvement. The service was mostly good, our server was very good about stopping by and checking on us, not so great about clearing expended dishes. Nothing major though.
More than anything I got the impression that the dishes were. . . dated. kind of like Beef Wellington or Chicken Cordon Bleu. The beds of rice and steamed veggies seemed to be a throwback to a mid century dining guide. Today's dishes are simpler, cleaner. As I said, I would have been pleased with just the chops and the potatoes. No need for all that other stuff, unless we'd asked for it. The three TV's made it seem like they were going for sports bar, a thing that this place is decidedly not.
however, those are the biggest complaints I can come up with.
Price-wise, well, I did order one of the most expensive things on the menu. So the appetizer and three full entrees came to about $73. Not awful, but for that there was a lot on the plate that did not get eaten.
We may go again. . .

Ari's Restaurant & Bar - Lin Ferry Dr. Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


1 Ikea Way
St. Louis, Mo.
On The Web

We were very excited about this, we'd been waiting for it for over a year, from the first
announcement that Ikea was opening up a St. Louis location.
It had been nine years, or more, since we'd been to an Ikea.
That one was in College Park, Maryland, about 30 miles north of our house in Calvert County. We went several times during the five years we lived there. It was always more than a mere shopping trip, it was an event. Angel and I are not 'shoppers'. Rare is the casual trip to one or more stores just to browse. Ikea has always been different though.
We'd always stop in the cafeteria and order Swedish meatballs, maybe a sweet dessert.
Then we'd take the tour. We sometimes bought flat pack furniture, but the real delight were the small things, clocks, lamps, office storage stuff, pillows, etc. We'd marvel at the tidiness, efficiency and pleasant forms in the small rooms in the big store.
A casual search around our house, even now, will reveal several Ikea-unique products.
The new location finally opened a few weeks back. We were patient, there was an absolute frenzy for the first few weekends, the crowds made the news.
Ikea was founded in Sweden in 1943, during that cold country's darkest unpleasantness. Most people consider it a Swedish company still, though it is now multinational, headquartered in the Netherlands.

The Place:
Just north of I-64 off of Vandeventer Ave. You can't miss it. The signage and lighting are big and bright.
It was well received when Ikea announced they would be building in downtown St. Louis. There's been a lot of flight and blight in the past several decades. Metropolitan St. Louis has been expanding though, mostly westward, toward and into St. Charles County. This location, just a hop and a skip from the Arch should be a real shot in the arm for the downtown economy.
Oddly enough, Adam had never been to an Ikea. All those trips we made in Maryland, he'd never gone. So we left our house early, around four thirty, so we'd have plenty of time to browse and still get him home in time to go to work. Trying to use Tina-Tina in Angel's SUV proved useless (Her Tom-Tom GPS device tuned to a naggy female voice) since the store's listed address is "1 Ikea Way" Tina-Tina hasn't had a map upgrade in over a year, it wouldn't have a less than one year old road in her database. . . Instead, Adam served as navigator, using his smart phone's GPS and maps. It knew where "1 Ikea Way" was.
The parking lot revealed hundreds of cars, but there were still a few good spots not far from the door.
We went in on the ground floor (1 of 3) and rode up an escalator to two. There was a lady handing out maps and answering questions there. We located the massive cafeteria and got in line. Yes, a line of dozens of people ahead of us. There were poles and ropes set up in an infuriating zig-zag to keep everyone in line in a relatively small area. In the very large dining area there were scores of people and families, from about a dozen or more discernible ethnicities. I remembered this from the College Park store as well, a big draw for a very diverse customer base. College Park is, as the name implies, a big college town. (enrollment 34,000+) "1 Ikea Way" is very close to St. Louis University (enrollment: 13,000+) This is relevant since Ikea's products are made for small, efficient apartments and rooms, which are common up near the arctic circle, not unlike college accomidations. It's a match made in heaven.
Adam's been looking into getting his own place, maybe an efficiency or studio apartment closer to his work. He values efficiency and convenience as well.
The Food:
A no-brainer. For myself and Angel, Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. She added a side of mac and cheese, I added a salad. We both grabbed a slice of garlic toast, she also pulled out a violently-sweet looking chocolate cake. Adam, predictably picked out the chicken tenders and fries. Also available were some veggie wraps and some salmon dishes. It's not a huge selection, but there's certainly something for just about anyone.
For drinks, I smartly chose the grind-and-brew-right-into-your-cup, coffee. Angel and Adam were stuck with Pepsi products.
We found a table near the big window.
The first bite of the small, gravy'd meatballs sent be back in time and place. . .
I have admired and respected the Scandinavian lands and cultures for many, many years. Even to this day. I'm one year into my 'translated Scandinavian crime novels' theme of reading material.  It all started when I was quite a bit younger and I discovered Sweden's finest export and pop mega-phenom, ABBA.
Yeah, ABBA. You have a problem with that? Well, do you? (pause for a self-empowering 'Fernando'
Actually I discovered them about the time they were breaking up, in the early 80's. I did buy all their albums though. I have since collected everything they ever released, even solo works in Swedish. Also a few documentaries and video DVD's, including a questionably sourced copy of ' ABBA The Movie'. As recently as last Christmas, Angel gave me a coffee table book of photos from the group's heyday.
There is, of course, quite a bit more to Sweden than ABBA, or so I am told, but this was where my infatuation with all things Scandinavian began.
Hmmmm, we've drifted off course here. . . back to the food.
The salad was quite good, though I was disappointed to only be able to find two kinds of dressing, a raspberry and a balsamic. There may have been more. The salad was fresh and crisp though.
The little meatballs were smooth, creamy and delicately spiced. No heat or punch, just mild, comfortable and cozy. They contained beef and pork, but the mix is thorough, not a pairing of flavors or textures, more of a perfect, harmonic blend. The gravy was the same, nothing striking or pronounced, just smooth and mild. This dish makes me think of cold, dark days. . . a plate of comfort, like a cozy blanket for your shivering soul.
The mashed potatoes were not laced with garlic, or cheese, or anything else, just creamy, buttery and
The serving, at first glance, seemed rather small, especially compared to meat and potato offerings at American-style eateries. . . but the meal was indeed quite filling and satisfying.
I sampled Angel's mac and cheese, smooth and creamy as well, perfectly acceptable without being remarkable.
She shared the cake around, not as violent as it appeared, not overly sweet at all. Quite tasty, especially with the bold coffee. .
Oh yeah, that coffee. . . The dispenser had a touch screen that let me choose espresso or American. . . I picked the latter because I would need to get some sleep sometime during the next week. . .
Fabulous, fantastic, perfect. I even lingered over the cup after Adam and Angel finished and headed off on the tour.
Lingered, lingered. . .  Oh yeah, that reminds me. On the plate with the meatballs and mashed potatoes was a small dollop of lingonberry jam.
Lingonberries are quite common in Scandinavia, they thrive in those northern latitudes. Lingonberry jams are quite simple, just berries and sugar. They are somewhat raspberry-ish, though much less tart. It's not a strong taste. I think most Americans would enjoy it quite well on a biscuit or pancake if it were more common here. So go ahead, don't be afraid, it's not that strong of a taste.
I knew what the meal would be going in. My only negative comment would be that the meatballs were not as warm as they could have been. Servings are plated from small steamer baskets, mine had apparently been there for a while. Not really cold, just not quite up to optimum serving temperature.
The place is huge, with multiple seating options, even rows of easy chairs. It's a bit noisy, like a cafeteria or food court, but tolerable being as it is so vast. Everything appeared to be clean and the cafeteria was very well staffed. There was a shortage of dessert options, the lady at the register had said that there were lines for the cafeteria since the store opened that morning. Desserts are time consuming to prepare and bake, so it's quite understandable that those will run out most often.
The prices are more than reasonable. The meatballs and potatoes were $4.99 and the sides just as reasonably priced between two and five dollars. (The cake was $3.29)
On the way out of the store, you can grab frozen/bagged versions of almost everything. We grabbed meatballs and a gravy packet, we also grabbed some of the coffee. Mmmm, it was good.
The whole Ikea experience is amazing. It's more like a tour than a shopping trip. There are interesting little things, kitchen and bathroom gadgets, stuffed toys, mugs, pans, glasses, lamps, clocks. . . We managed to half fill a blue bag. No flat pack furniture this time, but we did see a couple of things we're going to take measurements for.
Highly recommended, better at off-peak times.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Steve's Hot Dog's

3457 Magnolia
St. Louis, Mo.
On the web

I've been hearing about this place for a few years. Angel's son Tyler (the guy who designed our logo) raves about it and tries to go there at least once on every trip into the St. Louis area.
Steve's has two locations, one on 'The Hill' and another, the one we decided to go to, alongside Tower Grove park. Either is a little further into the city than we like to go, since, with city traffic, it can eat up a lot of our limited together-time window.
But Angel was wanting to go to Whole Foods as well this weekend, so we doubled up. She'd gone with her son to Steve's once, but for me, it was a first.
Hot dogs are rarely, if ever, a destination meal for me. They're fast and easy to grill at home, so I'll occasionally do that, but frankly, (pun intended) I don't have them very often, I couldn't recall the last time I'd slapped a wiener on a bun.
The Place:
Tower Grove is a nice area. The park is very large and well taken care of. An old-school park, mostly
trees, sidewalks and several very well constructed pavilions. If you plan a trip to the city, you should put this area near the end of a day. Relax in the park and enjoy any of the fine eateries and shops surrounding it.
Steve's is in a small building it shares wit the Tic Toc Tavern. It has picnic tables under umbrellas in the front, for the nicer days. Inside, music played loudly. I was to learn that we were listening to 'The Urge', a band fronted by Steve Ewing, the owner and the 'Steve' in 'Steve's dogs'.
I don't listen to music much and don't keep up with styles or genres. I admit I don't know 'The Urge' from 'Toad the Wet Sprocket'. I hear they did alright for themselves though.
The giant chalkboard covering most of the left wall tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Hot dogs, mac and cheese, that's it.
We stared at the board for a while, then stepped up to place our order.
Me: Steve's Famous Chili-Cheese Dog. grilled onions please.
Angel: Same, with raw onions.
Adam: Gorilla Mac & Cheese Dog.
We went combo, which adds a drink and a bag of chips.
For drinks, there's a glass-front cooler, get your own. I assumed water, but changed my mind in a sudden burst of nostalgia. Fitz's Premium Grape Pop. Fitz's is a local brand. In 1993 they bought an old bank building on the Delmar Loop and brought in a 1940's bottling line they found in Wisconsin. I've been to Fitz's. You can watch the bottling line from your table. Their flagship is their root beer, which is pretty darn good. So this pop wasn't available in my youth, but it did remind me of the venerable old Nehi brand. I had a lot of Nehi Grape when I was a kid. I do not recall having one since.
Adam grabbed the root beer, Angel, a Diet Dr Pepper. I also plucked some Lay's Potato Chips off the rack, Angel, Doritos and I think Adam went for the Lay's as well.
We found an empty plastic picnic table and stumbled into our seats. It's been a long time since I sat at a picnic table, I kept forgetting that you have to step over the seat.  We twisted our tops and boy was I pleased. The candy sweet grape flavor, the tickling burn of the carbonation. . man that was good. I hadn't had a soda pop of any kind in a year or more. . . a diet thing, but this hit the sweet and burn spot perfectly.
We sat waiting for a few minutes, people came and went, lots of pickups and take-outs. I looked around and noticed a lot of Star Wars themed toys on the shelves. . . I don't know why, but it did seem to be an underlying decor theme.
The Food:
They brought out our diner-style baskets. The dogs at Steve's are 1/4 pound Nathan's Franks.
Nathan's opened its first store in 1916 on Coney Island. So Nathan's Hot dogs are the real deal, unlike in nearly every way to the cheap, flaccid ten-pack dogs you get at the supermarket. Nathan's have that distinctive 'snap' when you bite into them, natural casings. I had trouble seeing my weenie though. It was completely covered in chili and cheese. the bun was not a standard grocery store bun either, it seemed more dense. That would keep it from disintegrating  under the wetness of the chili, but to think you could pick this up and eat it would be foolishness. You'd end up wearing most of it. Plastic knives and forks were thankfully provided. I pinched off a piece of the bun, indeed it was denser, and stretchier that a standard bun. It was also, in front of me, completely pointless. A bun, to me is a delivery vessel. I couldn't pick this thing up, so there was no need for the stretchy, dense and admittedly tasty roll. I used my knife and fork to locate the frank. I cut slices, then halved
those. A 1/4 pound wiener is pretty thick. But lordy, it was good. The chili, with beans, was quite good as well, for what it was. I prefer a more tomato-y chili, which is never really suitable for topping a hot dog, since it tends to be more moist and thin than this more traditional chili style. I like that it had beans though.
Adam's Gorilla had no chili, but it was just as smothered with creamy mac and cheese and bacon. The mac and cheese had intrigued me, though putting it on a dog seemed too much. I have trouble putting pasta on bread. . . it just seems redundant. Instead we ordered a half pint side of it, no toppings, just for Angel and I to try. Oh yeah, they got it right. A perfect blend of creaminess and cheesiness. Comfort food nirvana. We ended up finishing off that
half-pint. All of Adam's tray was gone pretty quick, Angel had made the same tactical decision I did to pretty much ignore the bun and just have the dog, chili and macaroni.
Really good hot dogs and mac and cheese. Angel mentioned she really wanted the Brat and kraut, but they had sold out, according to the note on the chalk board.
As I mentioned at the start, hot dogs are not really a destination meal for me. I rarely crave one. But as far as dogs go, these were very good. I might not get the chili next time, maybe just the 'Madeline' which is listed as 'For the purest of the pure. . . . plain, with or without bun'. I'd certainly add a side of that awesome mac and cheese though. Some of the mac and cheese bowls looked pretty good as well. Adam said he'd like to try the Hawaii 5-0 dog. . .
I really liked the place, despite the long drive. Both Adam and Angel agreed, these were some good dogs. . . and Angel knows a thing or two about dogs. . .
The price was very friendly three meals and a side for twenty seven and change. I can't think of any reason to not highly recommend this joint. By far my favorite dog shop in town.

Steve's Hot Dogs Tower Grove Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ruby Tuesday

1120 Shapiro Drive
Festus, Mo.
On the Web

September 2015 marks this prestigious journal's sixth anniversary! Nearly three hundred highly
researched, sane and articulate posts, highlighting and occasionally skewering eateries in our limited universe.
Once again, I feel obligated to regale you, the fans, with the story of the birth of Eat and Critique.
By September, 2009, we'd lived in Jefferson County for a little over three years. We continued a tradition, an appointment of going out to eat on Saturday evenings. It was a way to interrupt our very busy lifestyles and spend some quality 'us' time.
Choosing a place to go was always a chore. Three years in, we'd pretty much settled into a rut of a handful of places. One of those places was Ruby Tuesday.
If we were celebrating something, a new job, a new client,, etc. This is where we would go, since it was the pricier of the rut-places. I usually got the same thing, yeah the rut was that deep. Steak, mashed potatoes and sauteed green beans. This particular meal, everything went wrong. The steak was overcooked, the tea was bitter, the potatoes over salted, the service was lousy, the courses were terribly timed, the check took forever, our waiter disappeared, twice. . .
I was livid. I complained about it for hours, maybe days. I was threatening to write a terse letter to the corporation. Somewhere in all that righteous indignation, I declared that we would absolutely, positively, drag ourselves out of that rut and find new places.
That's is how all of this started. My frustration with a lousy meal at Ruby Tuesday.
So, in honor of that bad meal, we decided to go there on this, our sixth anniversary.

The Place:
It's a Ruby Tuesday, one of the many mid-level chains of 'sports bars' like TGI Friday, Chili's, Outback, etc. Like the one parodied in the movie 'Office Space'. I can't usually tell them apart on the inside. They used to have more sports junk on the walls, but that went away in a small, infrequent, but refreshing display of good taste.
As you step in, you come face to face for the only real reason we ever go there, the salad bar.
We were greeted and seated in an area to the left of the bar, pretty much the same place we always get seated. Katy introduced herself and handed out menus. Not that we really needed menus, traditionally we always get pretty much the same thing.
The Food:
 The main thing at RT is the salad bar. We pick our meals based on how hungry we will be after we have our big salads.
Due to fairly recent conversations, punctuated with a lot of finger wagging, with my doctor, I have drastically altered my lifestyle. I won't bore you with details, but the alterations have worked, all my 'numbers' are back where they should be. Bottom line, I can't eat as much at a single sitting as I used to. That terrible meal I had six years ago has even been paired back. Instead of the salad bar and a full sized steak, potatoes and beans, sometimes followed by dessert, I order the Petite Sirloin and mashed potatoes to supplement the salad. I don't often even finish that.
This is what I went with again. Angel surprised us by going off script and getting the crab cakes. Adam put us back on course, choosing the chicken tenders. He doesn't do the salad bar. No appetizer this day.
Katy took our order and was nearly washed away by the slipstream we left in our rush to the salad bar. We have salads at home frequently, but keeping everything fresh is a problem. We rarely have everything we want at the same time as we want it. This is what makes RT's bar perfect. it has everything and it is all fresh. We don't have to buy heads of lettuce, pounds of mushrooms, etc. just to let them mostly spoil in or chill box.
What did I pick for my salad this time? Well, 'everything' is probably the best way to sum it up. I topped it with two dressings, blue cheese and Italian. I should point out that the photo makes it look massive, but that is not a full sized plate. Besides, this was the main course, the meat and potatoes were just side dishes.
We finished off our salads as well as the complimentary cheesy biscuits. Had we stopped then and
there this would be a completely positive review.
Katy brought the main courses a few minutes after we were finishing the salads, perfect timing. The plates looked rather sparse, nothing on them other than precisely what we ordered.
Right away I wished I had stopped with the salad. The steak was overcooked. I don't send things back, it takes too long. I ate about half of it, but was fortunately already sated by the voluptuous salad. I didn't finish the potatoes either, they were too salty. The steak also seemed too salty, something I was hard pressed to explain. It's a steak, you don't need more than a pinch of anything added to it. To over-salt steak is nothing short of criminal.
When I mentioned this to the family, Angel chimed in. "Well I wasn't going to say anything, but the crab cakes were too salty. I thought it might just be me."
No dear, it wasn't. The chef was heavy handed, we've seen it before. Jilly's has been serving food laden with an oceans' worth of the mineral for several years.
Adam said his meal was "good". That's all. He doesn't talk a lot.
Adam and Angel decided to order some dessert to take home. RT was pushing a Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake. That's what they both went with. To me, pumpkin is an Autumn decoration, not a flavor. I don't eat or drink anything with the word 'pumpkin' in it. Besides, my tolerance for sugar is way down, so I rarely have a full dessert anymore.
We were not really disappointed, the salad bar was great and our expectations for the other stuff was not very high. It is a shame that they managed to ruin a perfectly good cut of meat though, again. Katy did a spectacular job, her timing and attentiveness were excellent, no complaints there. Since we lived in Maryland for five years, our expectations for a crab cake anywhere else are considerably lowered. Nobody out here gets them right.
The real sore point with Ruby Tuesday is that we only occasionally get it all right, yet it still costs more than most other places we go, the tab this time was over sixty dollars. That's a lot to pay for a salad and small, incorrectly cooked sides.
Yeah, we'll go back, for the salad, but maybe only the salad.

Ruby Tuesday Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, August 20, 2015


7070 State Rd. BB
Cedar Hill, Mo.

This was an ad-hoc plan B. We'd planned to go to Sorelli's in Cedar Hill, pizza, pasta, sandwiches, etc. As soon as we got there I had a memory flash. While looking up the menu earlier in the day, I had noticed a mention of a benefit auction for something. The parking lot was full. Ambulances in full show car mode, more than a dozen parked Harley's, many pickups and SUV's. They had quite the turnout. All three of us shy (run) away from crowds, so we didn't even need to take a vote, we were out of there.
We don't get to Cedar Hill often, it's not a very big town and it's not really on the way to anything we can get to on much less curvy, shoulder-less and narrow roads. This was highway BB, built to 1940's standards. A farm road built around farm property lines, streams, hills and creeks.
I'd been through Cedar Hill several times this year though, looking for churches. (long story) I knew there were other places in town, so did Angel. We had, in fact, just passed one. We went there.
The Place:
The Dar-E-Kreme is in a standalone, one-story, wood frame building, 1940's or 50's vintage. It does not have a drive-thru, but it does have a walk-up window. there were a few picnic tables scattered around.
As the name implies this was an old-school Ice Cream/Burger joint. Those of us in my generation, especially those more rural of us, will fondly recall places like this. This is what constituted fast-food when I was a kid. Before McD's or any of the rest of the plastic clones of McD's. During long, hot summers people would line up for some soft-serve or a sundae. Dad might get a burger, a feast for the whole family. Ahh, memories.
We walked in and I realized that they'd clung to that nostalgic notion. They hadn't copied it, this was it.
The back wall was mostly menu, bright, colorful and in the very style of the old 'Dairy-Dips' of my long-ago youth.
The yellow and beige checker pattern linoleum tile floor showed its age, but was clean and wax-shiny. The floor sagged a little in the middle as is quite common in 50 year old buildings. The sag was almost not noticeable except for the big spinning, stainless steel ice cream machine behind the counter. the squared top of the machine was parallel to nothing. Also behind the counter, scattered around on every available top, were colorful, gallon sized jugs of various syrups for the sno-cones and other frozen treats.
The walls themselves were painted a 50's shade of pale pink and almost hidden by the hundreds of photos and mini posters of The Three Stooges, 'I love Lucy' and 'The Andy Griffith Show' etc. Above the booths were yellow and orange Tiffany style hanging lamps, featuring a smiling ice cream cone. These fixtures were hardly vintage, they looked fairly new, but they fit the place like a glove. Behind the counter were a few black tee-shirted crew members, busy, sweating a little, but behaving quite professionally.

The Food:
This I knew to be a place for a quick, satisfying burger and fries. I knew that's what Adam and Angel would order, so I went out on a limb and asked for a fish sandwich and onion rings. I had a sneaky suspicion that the fish patty would be fast food square, not a filet as you may find in more upscale places. The fish patties of my youth, like the school cafeteria served. I didn't even ask, I just knew. Adam also showed some sense of familiarity when he ordered a double burger. He just knew that the meat patties would be small and thin. It was just so obviously that kind of place.
Angel made the order, I found us a booth in the back. The place was busy.
It wasn't very long before one of the crew members brought our tray with a smile.
We had nailed it. The burger patties were small and thin, spatula smashed on the grill, rough, crispy edged. Just a simple bun, exactly like those you pick up from the supermarket. The fries were perfectly sized and exactly the shade of brown that a fry should be. I took one of Angel's, it was exactly what I expected, crispy and salty. A perfect fry.
My onion rings as well looked exactly as you would expect from a joint like this. Crispy brown, all the rings intact. The fish patty, oh that lovely fish patty met my hopes and exceeded my expectations. It was crispy, the fish itself flaky and it actually tasted like fish, not burnt cooking oil. Because there was nothing else on the sandwich, like lettuce or cheese, it was just the fish, a light dollop of creamy tartar sauce and my taste buds. What a delight. The onion rings were as good as they looked. Steamy real onions encased in a crispy batter. No flash, no added heat. Simple, nostalgic, not too heavy, not crowded with extras.
Angel and Adam were truly enjoying their baskets as well. The 'Double' was the perfect call, size-wise.
Both of them were quite happy with their meals, for the same reasons I loved mine. Dar-E-Kreme pulled it off, a simple, excellent meal.
Since we were surrounded by people coming and going with frozen treats, we were tempted. Quite uncharacteristically, we succumbed to that temptation. I decided to splurge and go for an ice cream sandwich. Not just any ice cream sandwich though. Here I had the option of a Dad's Original Scotch Oatmeal Cookie. I don't recall the other options, I knew Dad's. It's a St. Louis thing. Many eateries in the area have Dad's jars on the counter. These are old style cookies, the recipe for the Scotch Oatmeal is nearly a hundred years old.
We would be eating our treats in the car, it was pretty hot out, once again reminding me of the sweet and very sticky summer trips to the lake of my youth. Two-three inch cookies with nearly an inch if hard frozen soft-serve vanilla between them. Angel and Adam stuck with their favorites, a root beer float and a chocolate malt, respectively. I assumed they enjoyed them, I was too busy trying to catch the melting ice cream before it coated my arm and lap. I proudly and bravely hosted a small bout of brain freeze. Well worth it.
As you can probably tell by now, we loved the place. Simple, inexpensive (dinner minus the ice cream was just over twenty five bucks) and friendly. I was kind of glad Sorelli's was packed, otherwise we might have skipped around this small place yet again.
Sure, Cedar Hill is hardly on the way to much, but if you do find yourself in that area and want to hark back to the good old days, the real thing, not some plastic, industrialized imitation, this is the joint.

Click to add a blog post for CEDAR Hill Dar-E-Kreme on Zomato

Monday, August 10, 2015

Oriental Buffet

774 S. Truman Blvd.
Festus, Mo.

After last week's very disappointing Chinese (Panda Express) meal, we needed to refresh our palates. One of the most telling indicators that the food wasn't that good was that no one ever touched any of the leftovers. Angel says that's a sure sign that it was just wrong.
So we decided to go to a decent Chinese place and rub the Panda's face in it.
The Place:
Less than one mile south of, and on on the same road as Panda.  PE is on a lot just north of the big Walmart, Oriental Buffet is in a shopping center on the lot south of Wally World. Yeah, that close. It doesn't appear that their business has suffered much from the big Hibachi Grill, also less than a mile away, or the mighty Panda. OB looked as clean, well staffed and popular as ever. Overhead, twangy Chinese instrumentals played quietly, as if a part of nature itself.
The steamer trays were loaded up. The first station, for  sushi, was offering pretty and colorful stuff in sticky rice, stuff that I will never take. I just don't like sticky rice.
We were greeted at the front counter and immediately led to a four top in the middle of the tidy dining area. Without even sitting down, we gave our drink orders, tea, tea and coke and were pointed toward the ample serving area. Yeah, that fast.
The Food:
The offerings at Panda were very limited. Not here, I counted seven or eight types of chicken, several types of shrimp and other seafood, including frog legs, lots of wrapped fried things, different kinds of rice and noodles, a whole station for salads, another for desserts. . .  you get the point.
We loaded up. As usual I took small samples of lots of things, rice, noodles five different chickens, bourbon, honey, orange, black pepper and General Tso. I also grabbed a spring roll a rangoon, a couple of fried shrimp and some pepper beef. In other words, everything I 'd had from the Panda, plus much more.
By the time we returned to the table, the drinks were waiting. It just doesn't get faster from order to forkful than this.
Angel's plate looked similar, though she'd also found some sauteed green beans and had some chicken on a stick. Adam had some of his favorites, broccoli (blech!), white rice and sweet and sour chicken. I like sweet and sour, but for some reason, buffets around here think that the chicken for it needs to be coated like a corn dog in breading. When I make sweet and sour at home, it's no different than that for the other sauce/coating options, very lightly breaded, just enough to make it crisp.
The first thing I dug into was the noodles. I love noodles. But I like fried rice as well. This poses a dilemma at some non-buffet Chinese places, noodles or rice, rice or noodles. That's why I love a buffet, I can get both.
Angel  and I agree, the rice here was so much better than at the Panda. Which is ridiculous, fried rice
is one of the simplest things to make. You certainly don't crowd it with veggies, especially corn. Who puts corn in fried rice? But I repeat myself.
Even Hibachi, the colossal buffet on the nearby hill makes better rice, and chicken and everything else. Even though when we did a two night comparison a while back, Hibachi lost out a little to the Oriental Buffet.
There wasn't a lot of conversation while we cleaned our plates. And clean them, we did.  This was a great idea, to restore our respect for the cuisine.
We all had small dessert plates, mine, of course was banana pudding, with a vanilla wafer, and the bananas in thick red sauce you only find at Chinese places.
Simple. Everything was better than at the Panda. It was fast, had a much wider variety and as if that weren't enough, the bill came in six dollars under what we paid at the Panda.
I've had better Chinese food. Primarily when I was stationed in Japan. But that's a bit of a drive, I doubt that I will ever have that again. However there's also Springfield, Mo. where Angel is from and where I spent seventeen years of my own handsome life. Springfield is where you find the best Americanized Chinese food in the country. Seriously, it doesn't get better. If you've ever had 'Cashew Chicken' or as it is known some places, 'Springfield Style', you'll understand, it was first created there.
However, I don't live there anymore either. So The quest is constant to find at least pretty good versions. In our vicinity, in the small window of driving time we can allow for these weekly excursions, Oriental Buffet wins every time.
The tea isn't very good, just ask for water instead, there's so many great flavors on your plate that you don't need to worry about what you drink.
The staff is efficient, tidy, busy and quickly on the spot to remove plates or refill your tumbler. The price is right, the selection and quality is a lot better. AND they have takeout options!
I do not understand why anyone would prefer the third rate food at Panda Express over this place. Of course, I also don't understand why there's always a line at the drive through at White Castle. Some people just want crap, I guess.

Click to add a blog post for Oriental Buffet on Zomato